Spring Festival and New Year 2008


4 Feb.

Most of the roads into the country were open, until turning off toward the  ­«, the “urban areas.” Then, the trafficway narrowed. That there were many people walking along the road did not help. They carried supplies for the up-coming New Year’s celebration, enough for at least seven days. New Year’s, the bringing in of the Spring, is a three-day eating and visiting glut, but the visiting and eating begin earlier. The long lines looked like refugees: pole-carriers, bundles, babies strapped to backs. Grandmothers or grandfathers on their tricycles, the beds in back big enough for one person or a person and groceries–and pedaling ever so slowly up the centre of the road oblivious to the sound of traffic and the blaring of horns. Deeper and deeper into the country, heading for the village of Wuwencun (Âð¥Â) on the other side of Xiaguan (¬Ð), cropland was covered with snow. It was obvious these were ruined even though there was much less snow here than 80 km to the west in flatland Shaoxing, I saw wilted, frozen, discolored cabbage–with the occasional yellow-centred winter variety surviving to show its bright life. Nobody worked the fields even though it was two days before festivities would begin. Shelters and small warehouses, holding wood, supplies and farming implements lined the road and its frozen patches of tarmac, many of them collapsed.

By the time we got way out into the country and into the foothills of the mountains, the weather was a tad warmer. . .til about 6 PM when the chill descended along with the black, black night. A thick cotton turtle-neck, two shirts, jeans and two pair of long underwear did not help. I put on my cap and thick leather jacket and didn’t feel much better–and this was inside the house. Of course, the ice cold beer Amy’s father kept offering me didn’t help any–and it’s rude not to drink. After dinner and two cups of Shaoxing wine, huang jiu (ªæ, yellow wine), I all but passed out and was trundled upstairs to my room: a bed, a chair, a table and a wall-alcove full of. . .things–and my pot to piss in. The transom window pane above the door was no longer there and the thin cotton curtain over the window occasionally billowed.

These houses are, for the most part, brick and concrete affairs, as they are in the city. They are hollow and echo and soak up the damp and cold and hold it in a lover’s embrace. There are no heaters and no air conditioning. The kitchen is of the older type with the addition of modernity in a two-burner gas-top. The old pots are fitted into the paneled cook-top which is slanted to allow easy cleaning and escape of water out a little hole in the wall. This is a wood-fired stove; unlike many older style houses, of which there were plenty, this one had a small chimney. Four interconnecting bedrooms upstairs and a veranda that went around two sides of the house. As soon as we got in, Amy’s mother, Chafeng, put out to air all of the bedding. I tried to help but was told “no.” As I was every time I tried to help. Made me feel useless. Even though I’m a guest and this is the appropriate way to treat a guest, I do not like being treated like a king or suchlike. Be that as it may, I sat at the front room table sipping my hot water and watching the activity. Finally, Amy told me–ordered me–to take my things upstairs.

Amy, Ruan Xiaoyan, is a student of mine. She lives with her mother, Chafeng, and her brother, Ruan Feng and sister-in-law Chen Mei and their 10-month old daughter, Yingying. I have visited them in Shaoxing more than once, for dinner. We get along well. Amy’s father lives elsewhere where he works and, as Amy and her mother say, chases his other women, which is why they’re separated. I was not really very interested in meeting him. Amy and I have become quite close, though there’s nothing romantic in the relationship; a kind of association that would at first raise eyebrows, then engender rumors and then get me fired in a US university, paranoid as schools are of all student-professor mixed gender relationships. In China, you can be a little more human. I open up my life to my students and they learn about foreigners and their English improves; they get to cook and watch TV and nose around my small library. I’ve been told that, in ESL academia, this is known as “immediacy.” I sometimes think it is silly that a 60-year old become involved with his 20+ year old students but, at the same time, I think it keeps me young: I keep up with them. I have formed some lasting friendships in my seven years in China.

In this old house lived Amy, Ah-feng and her parents, her grandmother and great-grandmother living close-by, before her family moved to Shaoxing. During her high school years, she lived with a god grandmother in Lingnan. Grandma still lives in Wuwencun, way up on the mountain. She’s 80 this year. I met her once in Shaoxing, on my first visit to Amy’s house. I’m anxious to meet her again. She’s a neat lady. Not in the least old in the head. When I kissed her on the cheek –she did not shy away as her daughter, Chafeng, did–she returned the kiss. . .on my neck. An 80-year old live wire! She only speaks Shaoxinghua, the local dialect, and is illiterate, never having gone to school. Full of smiles and wrinkles and bundled against the cold, she looked like a gnome with her bright eyes and quick repartee–Amy translating, of course. I would dearly love to get to know her better, find out more of her life before it’s all but forgotten by the society around her, so bent on modernization and materialism. She is a passageway into a time, a culture that Mao’s communism has tried to totally erase from the people’s consciousness as being “imperialistic” and, therefore, anti-Marxist, anti-modern and unfree. But it is a part of the country’s historical identity and not totally eradicated out in the country. She was born in 1928, during the tumultuous years of The Republic, which was more of a time of warlord hegemony until Chang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi, in pingying) rose to prominence.

5 Feb.

Bright and early, the front doors are open. It’s raining, a cold, drizzly rain. White-grey sky behind bamboo high-lighted by the crisp white snow on the surrounding mountainsides, the colorlessness cut by cross-crossing telephone wires. The dogs are out barking at me and my frozen fingers. The roosters crow occasionally. There is one in the narrow storage room off to one side of the porch that serves as toilet. He’s dinner, I assume. Since 5-6 last night, breath has been ubiquitously obvious.

Via TV I suppose I’ll hear about the snowed-in country but if it’s raining there I’m sure the situation will be worsening–everywhere will be frozen, temperatures being well below zero. Air conditioners are not necessary to life; televisions are, for there’s not much to do in the evenings and during these vacation days but watch TV with their endless sameness of multiple musical extravaganzas. Later, Amy tells me there’s no cable connection since they do not live here during the year but, then, the following day I find the TV is connected. I think her father is milking off of the neighbors, old friends.

Boiling water cools very fast in this weather and I must learn how to drink it fast and hot even though I’d prefer to dally over it as I write or just sit and shiver.

A few old pictures on the wall, high enough that I can’t quite see their fadedness. Several of Ah-feng, a couple of Amy as a kid, B&W reproductions of her grandfather, who died in his 40’s secondary to something he picked up during the war, and her great-grandmother, who died when Amy was three (1988). Three large awards for Ah-feng, one small one for Amy. An old pedal sewing machine in the corner–I wonder if I can still use it? Long narrow buffet along the wall opposite the door stocked with hot plates and five thermoses of hot water. Although there are two folding padded card table chairs at this round table with its cockeyed spinning Lazy Susan, I’m sitting on a saw-horse type bench–there are three of these. The television is blaring some old CD-recorded programs from last year. Chafeng is in the kitchen readying breakfast at the wood-burning stove. Her father’s wandered off. The neighborhood dog pokes his head in the door but hides his tail between his legs and runs off at sight of the frightening foreigner. I tied the legs of the chicken so he’d not run off: this is dinner! A grandmother from next door brings over a bowl of greens piled high like a dunce’s cap and just plops it on the concrete floor before going in to talk to Chafeng. Concrete floors are everywhere. The warmest place in the house, aside from in a bed, is behind the white-tiled wood stove and since there’s never a truly raging fire there, this isn’t saying much.

I truly must speak of the toilet: two large rubber-plastic urns with a small cut piece of bamboo as thigh rest. Rustic. Very much better than my living conditions the summer of 2006 in Anyang where I had no toilet, no shower and I washed at the kitchen sink: clothes, face, hair, dishes, food. There, the ceiling kept dropping bugs and whatnot onto me and into my food; here there are high concrete ceilings. The window in this WC is kept open. Whenever I go in, I talk to the chicken, who kindly answers back. There is another long narrow space at the back of the house that is the bathroom and, at the far end under the stairs, storage. A sink with an outdoor type tap high above and a flexible neck showerhead, wall-mounted, but who wants to take a cold shower? No running hot water. The towels are hung along a jerry-rigged “rod”–a wire–and there is an old, crowded wooden shelf for holding toiletry necessities. Face, feet and ass are washed nightly before bed time.

Amy keeps filling me in on these little customs that I am, of course, breaking in my cultural ignorance. She never tells me in advance.

Some cabbage-like plants have been delivered. And a pot of. . .let me see. . .cut and stewed bamboo or sugar cane. Some kind of vegetable, Amy tells me. All from neighbors, who keep dropping in as much to renew old acquaintances as to see the foreigner, first ever to visit this mountain village.

Dinner was boiled pig skin/fat/meat with black tree-mold, some kind of blue beans that looked like bloated snails, some cold meat to be dipped in soy sauce, green salty vegetables and noodles, and rice. This morning, a different kind of noodles and vegetables.

It’s 9:15 AM.

Snowing in Shaoxing, her brother says, by phone. I hate to imagine further west!

On the front of my canvas pencil case: The Store To Sale Happy Virus.

10:35 AM and I’m in from my bit shoveling the road so Ah-feng can drive up to the house when he gets here later today. It’s more difficult than I remember (20+ years ago) but I’m also bundled up like a child and 60. There for awhile it was snowing with the rain. Amy says the forecasters say it’ll stop tonight. That’s here. I have some pictures of her shoveling: her classmates will be astounded to see Miss Fashion-conscious engaged in such behavior! She did a pretty good job taking twice as long as her old teacher to clear an area half as large.

I missed the demise and defrocking of dinner. For all that time, I could only hear the echo of my shoveling shouting back at me.

Noon–moderate snow, no wind.

We went to grandma’s for dinner. Several aunts–her children–and us. It was a grand time with lots of food and lots of huang jiu–heated. I finished first and got my bowl of rice, as per custom, but I’d have preferred more wine: the more I drank, the more I didn’t care about the taste and actually grew to like it. Am I becoming Chinese then?

Grandma’s house way up on the side of the mountain is gotten to by what can only be described, latterly, as an animal path. We could only drive half way to her place, then plodded up stairs and pathways that wound around and over others’ patios. I was short of breath not half way up (asthma) and my knees were brittle with cold. In my big clod-hopper Duck boots, I trundled along at the end of the line struggling up the muddy trails and over the rock-strewn final approach. Coming down by flashlight was even more alarming.

When grandma saw me, she threw her arms wide, smiled largely and let me kiss her on the cheek. She held my hand awhile and said. . .something. I don’t think I’ve ever been welcomed anywhere with open arms. I gave her the expensive bai jiu (æ, white wine) that had been given to me that I simply cannot tolerate: tastes like kerosene with an alcohol content of 50-60%. Amy assured me she drank; I assumed so, being country and older.

Before dinner, I went around the side of the house and up into the bamboo mountain side, following an old muddy trail. I didn’t get very far: I slipped navigating a particularly sodden rise and fell, rolling about 6′ down the hill, stopping at the base of a good leg-sized bamboo. My hands were covered with mud but, from what I could see, not much of my jacket. I imagine if I’d not had so much clothing on I’d have been luckier and achieved my goal but, alas, it was not to be. I decided, upon getting up, that another try would not be worth the trouble and tried to clean my hands in the snow. No luck. So, I trundled back down to the house holding out my hands that I couldn’t clean off in the snow, calling for water. Well, Chafeng and Grandma took me in hand, all the while chiding me like a misbehaving child, grandma much gentler, Chafeng more hysterical over my mishap. The back of my jacket was a muddy mess, it turned out. Luckily, both are leather, so they cleaned up nicely. Everyone else laughed heartily at my escapade. Actually, she was furious and, later, manipulative over my safety and foolishness as if I’m a little boy or a foolish old man because nobody in his right mind would do what I did. I can understand there is a great weight on her for caring for the guest and I can understand how she’d feel guilty if I got hurt, but there’s no need for such over-protectiveness and the expressed idea that I’m too stupid to know what it is I’m doing. Just as is meted out to Chinese children in general: none of the kids I see have the least little bit of adventurousness to them. Always safe. Always reasons for not doing “because.” Tian na! No wonder they can’t think on their own–they’ve never been allowed. Following the Japanese with driving, Chinese parents might be “safety parents.” A “safety driver” is a slow, over-cautious driver. As her ranting went on, I became more and more angry. She, herself, has never done anything even remotely close to exploring. I’ve been doing it all my life, beginning with taking unannounced walks before age one. These kids, I’m sure, have never climbed a tree or–heaven help us–fallen down. Even the most usual and common of child things, putting your fingers in your mouth, is forbidden, the child often getting slapped for it. I flare up at such repression. I really got put out at her but could say or do nothing other than promise that when I returned to Grandma’s I’d not go climbing the mountain.

At the end of the evening, when it was dark, Grandma asked if I wanted to stay. I wanted to–the way down the mountain was treacherous–but everyone else said “no.” Tomorrow she will come to us, they said (they lied). I was not too terribly pleased but what could I do? No one could understand me. They said, too, that the second floor would not support me (another lie). I am so fat. I believe, though, that they do not want us together.

Amy did not know the way down the mountain as we half-fell, half-climbed down the path to the car. Grandma lives at the top of a mountain in an old house with a new shell built around it. Tree-beam ceilings and wall posts with plastered walls; the exterior was originally stone; the doorways all have high lintels, worn with time from people not quite stepping cleanly over them. Modern front doors and a little added on toilet–modern. What a find! This house was warmer than the Ruan household. Comfy.

Despite everyone speaking Shaoxinghua, this was one of the best nights in China for me. Lots of pictures about the walls. Four generations present, though one of Grandma’s boys was not there: perhaps the day after tomorrow, I’m told, he’ll come in from Shaoxing. A grand-uncle. Grandkids and great-grandkids. I told Amy she needed to hurry up and give her grandmother another before too long. She scoffed at the suggestion. Here, girls don’t get married til they’re around 28; the Chinese are not young marriers. I was Amy’s age when my son was born, only 49 a grandfather.

Amy kept telling me not to drink so much: I wasn’t drinking “so much.” She is being very protective of me, as if I’m too young to know better. Like a little mother, so I was able to pun off her name, Xiaoyan, and call her Xiaoma (little mother). However, whenever she wasn’t looking, I got aunt #3’s husband to fill my bowl (Chafeng is aunt #2; there are only two uncles). You drink out of little bowls here, not glasses or cups or goblets. Rice bowl sized bowls. Warm huangjiu. Just didn’t seem to have much effect on me, to tell you the truth, but boy did I like it! Later, back at the house, I drank beer and went off at the bad directing and bad acting on the TV (now working). I was high, I must admit. Chinese TV is so very rotten that US TV is considered high quality and new seasons of Desperate Housewives, Sin and the City and Prison Break are anxiously awaited. Chinese are very fond also of Friends.

6 Feb.

I heard it was snowing and raining in Guizhou and Hunan–blizzard country. China telecom set up free phone service for the stranded, something that would never happen in America where profit trumps humanity every time.

I swallowed something down my windpipe last night and am now coughing deeply. Inhalation pneumonia? I don’t know what’s going on: I’ve been having alot of trouble swallowing, as if my epiglottis is not functioning correctly. Twice in six months now I’ve done this and several more near misses inbetween. Back is sore from shoveling. Yingying keeps shoving her tiny hands into my mouth, so I wonder if she’ll get ill; but, then, she does not put her hands in her mouth. This is verboten in China.

I could see they almost had her walking a couple times; with Amy, she was standing on her own, kid of wavering back and forth on those tiny fat feet. So over-clothed for the winter.

Wrote a very short story yesterday based on an old American fairy tale. Changed the sex of the main character to a boy and left him, of all the characters, nameless. Dancing With the Devil. Old Texas tall tale.

I’m sitting out on the porch in a small bamboo chair just like a grandfather watching life go by. Actually, I was told by sister-in-law to “Sit.” I’m not sure she really likes me, sometimes.

Smoke from chimneys across the way stream blue-grey wisps into the light easterly breeze, reminding me of storybook pictures of pioneer cabins. Snow-covered slate roofs, stone houses, some plaster- or concrete-covered formed stone houses. No really old ones in the area, outside of storehouses; though, down the road, I saw some wattle housing, I think only used for storage sheds now. The snow highlights the bowing bamboo. This would be a nice shot but for the telephone lines. Sounds of shoveling and the pat-pat-pat of rubber boots on concrete steps. Light grey sky but no prospect of snow. It’s so quiet and uncomplicated out here, why would anyone want a city? Places where life is made more complicated and much more dependant on things: some kind of autonomy has been given up in a city. In the name of civilization and progress, a diminishing humanity. But I think big cities will become places of disinhabited dissolution in the coming depression. They cannot support themselves. They are, in all their grandeur and magnificence and convenience, fragile things built on forgotten supports. The world will fragment into smaller self-sufficient but inter-dependant conclaves.

Today’s dinner, duck, just had its carotids severed. Horrible, gory and disgusting, those vegetarians would say, while staring into their own demise: bad weather, bad harvests. The rise of meat-eating and animal husbandry assured survival and made hunters out of gatherers. Ruined crops–that nobody was growing by design–meant depleted food supplies before meat became accessible. Killing plants is killing life anyway, so on that score alone vegetarian arguments are for naught. Facing starvation, perhaps their intellectually vacuous ideological stance would undergo a change. They are, after all, only able to maintain their desired feeding because of the advances in farming by, of all things, meat eaters. Vegetarians are, in their vapidity, unaware of the inter-dependence of society: once there was no choice. As most people are unaware. Out here in the country it’s different.

The East Indians are vegetarians by way of religion. The ancient Chinese, Japanese and Koreans by necessity: only rich people could afford meat. Only the rich could afford rice, too, though the poor grew it. Mostly, the poor ate barley or millet or some other bran. But Western history is not filled with much that isn’t aristocratic history from the East, so it may be forgiven for vegetarians not to know this. The ancient Greeks, who landed in the south of China, in the old Yue Kingdom region, called the inhabitants radish eaters.

I am pretty useless out here, mostly due to foreignness and communication deficiencies, though I am sometimes treated as if I’m too old to be of much use. The Chinese, even Amy who knows better, see “60” and immediately think “really fucking old.” And so I’m not allowed to do things that I’m perfectly capable of doing. Very frustrating for a man who’s spent his entire life adventurously, beginning with walks without warning before age one. Adventurousness is not a known quantity to the Chinese, young or old: it’s too dangerous, they learn from an early age. Over-protected, they never do anything that isn’t guaranteed safe.

I took a walk this afternoon, with camera, heading back into Xiaguan. Met questioning farmers and was able to tell them who I was and where I belonged and maybe one or two things about myself–enough to satisfy their curiosity. Some very interesting shots: old stairs down to streams, individual stone steps along a wall down to the mountain run-off and a small platform for washing clothes; old sod house, people. I met Amy and her brother on my way back and hopped in the car to go shopping in the town. She was driving. First time on the road. Her brother is teaching her. He’s a good, patient teacher, unlike the intolerant and ever-shouting father of mine. He, himself, is a new driver. New car. Citroën. Picked up some of his old friends and drove them part way home, on our way home.

When we got back, the table in the front room was set with food and fruit and candy as offering to. . .the spirits, I guess. Two apples with large cone-shaped candles in them, big end up to be lit later. Amy doesn’t really know why, it’s just tradition. So many young people are in this boat.

7 Feb.

New Year’s. Bright and early, nuts and fruit and candy set for the gods–or whatever. Part of superstitious tradition and maybe nobody but old folk know now why this is done. Maybe I can get Grandma to tell me.

I didn’t make it to midnight. Amy did not bother to wake me as I asked but the phone went crazy just before one, so I messaged her too.

Ah-Feng and Ah-Mei had a heated argument. She has a very loud, wheedling voice and doesn’t much care if anyone hears her ragging on her husband. There’s no possible way she was not heard by one and all, though Amy tends to sleep soundly and late, regardless of what’s going on around her. Indeed, she gets a little miffed if people wake her before 10:30!

So much about these houses is jerry-rigged or second thought. You’d think people weren’t going to be staying long yet buying a house and having a permanent place is high priority. In China, you are associated with a place, you’re registered there and if you move must get or apply for permission (that’s the only way I can put it). Always granted but you must officially be from somewhere. A hangover from ancient times because then you couldn’t travel without official papers, not even as a merchant. Your place is your identity, it seems, and the government knew where you belonged. Everything in its place. Foreigners, too, though the police will not come looking for you–unless you’ve done something wrong or caused a problem. . .or had an accident. Otherwise, the non-problem is unimportant. In the summer of 2006, I was a “loose” person while staying in Anyang. The Dean of the College at Anyang Teachers University caused a problem but it was circumvented. Delusional, he was sure I was there to cause him more trouble and embarrassment–I had not given in over non-payment of salary and, therefore, won. I defied authority. His bid to harass me led to the entire incident’s being put into my novel, The Constant Shell Game. All of the perpetrators who made the novel possible are listed in the acknowledgements.

8 Feb.

Yesterday afternoon it warmed up nicely. I could hear the drip-drip-drop of melting snow from the trees and bamboo. The paths are turning into pig’s heavens.

I found that people were stranded because of the storm. At Guangzhou, some supermarket put together a big dinner for them and China Telecom offered free calls to home. We can see with New Orleans that nothing like this would happen in America. I do remember, though, the department stores in Kansas City during the heat wave of 1980 opening up their doors at night so that people could take advantage of their air conditioning. No more. If the people had tried anything like this after Katrina, the local police would have shot them, as it did people trying to get away from the debacle.

I saw photo ops with Hu Jintao but, unlike the ego-centric, clean hands opportunities of George Bush, Hu actually took off his coat and joined in a line loading supplies onto an airplane.

For the fist time in two weeks, my stomach is not rebelling: I ate two bowls of porridge, this one with gravy, not just water, as per usual. Vegetables, pig liver and fat. . .along with something else I don’t know what and don’t know how to use though I’ve seen it and eaten it before. I think it’s a local food, like congealed sweet potato starch is an Anyang food (called delicacy).

Walked two miles up the mountain to Grandma’s, having not taken my meds. So. . .my shoulder hurt to write or raise my arm and I was horribly SOB when I arrived, solved because I’m never without my acute attack inhaler.

Beautiful weather–my coat’s off and I’m sitting out on the huge front patio in the sun, drinking tea and sucking on candy and listening to furious dialect–totally incomprehensible. Food is drying. Some meat or other is being trimmed and cleaned with scissors in a big, shallow tub. Strips of cloth in a threshing basket. Fir trees outside the house so that up here with only a view of mountain it feels like I’m out in the wilderness. Sounds of running water, roosters and firecrackers don’t really disturb the silence, but inbetween, and you can hear the silence.

I’ve changed to drinking orange juice.

A breeze has arisen. All of these things around you that you don’t pay attention to in the city. Wish there were a job for me out here, out in a country village. Away from the world and only an occasional foray into a city for books, music, art. I did enjoy myself in Wajikicho, Tokushimaken, Shikoku: 3000 people at the foot of the mountains, an hour from the nearest city of any size.

I’m coming down with something–or (and?) it’s a day without meds. However, I don’t feel so good. Tired. Yingying is getting cranky, so she’s probably getting sick, too. But it’s so fast to infection, if I’m the cause. It’s usually 7-10 days’ incubation. I’m always cold. Trembled uncontrollably when I went to bed at 7 PM. Now, at 11:15, I’m up and ready to go, though I can’t breathe. Sinuses/nose completely stopped up. Which affects sleep. . .and next day mood. Ai! I’m such a mess!

9 Feb.

I woke up at 5:55 AM (the fourth time I woke up) and it was light outside. Amazing!–at 6:30 yesterday it was still dark. However, later I discovered I read my clock wrong. Duh! Nevertheless, it felt nice to wake up to light, though it was cold. Very still. The sky is still completely clouded over. Having seen satellite weather shots in the past, this is as per usual. Even in summer, the eastern flatlands are pretty much cloud-covered. There’s a lot of rain in Shaoxing in spring and summer. Weeks at a time. I don’t think we had more than a week during December without rain. Makes for a green spring/summer though even in winter the trees sport green foliage and the grass is green, albeit a little duller hued.

On the mound of mountain across from the front doors, perhaps 100 metres distant, you can see patches of grass and ground now. A little break from the bright white snow. A gusty wind bends the yellow-green bamboo in waves up the hillock. If it just wasn’t so cold! If the house had heat!

My sinuses are no better and my toes are freezing. I’m tired of wearing my heavy, clumsy Duck boots and heavy leather coat, both indoors and outdoors.

Tomorrow, Ah-Feng said, we’d go up the mountain for pictures.

The blizzard: snow began on 19 Jan and by the 24th the power lines were down and high voltage power towers had buckled and collapsed. I saw pictures of wildly gyrating snapped high voltage lines crackling and popping like a horde of hysterical, frantic snakes. It’s still snowing in some places, raining in the rest of the south with sleet forecast for Hangzhou. People were stranded on trains between stations. There were shots of police and workers strapping straw to their shoes to keep from slipping on the icy roads, many fell anyway. More than half of the country was affected, 14 of the 26 provinces.

I just can’t believe the environmentalist who contacted me carrying on about coal being dirty with no concern for the people’s safety. He complained that my dig at environmentalists was stupid (his word) and then proceeded to rant just as I “stupidly” indicated environmentalists would. I’d said in my first article that this storm was like the deep south and Florida being inundated because, as with that section of the US, these Chinese provinces never see snow.

But the blizzard here also rose up into Henan Province, just south of Beijing, affecting the RR hub of the country at Zhengzhou. In geographical area the affected provinces would amount to more than half of the continental US, China being slightly larger. As this would necessarily include Texas, I can just imagine the conspiracy theorists busy with a Chinese or Muslim plot. In response to my B-52 article, I was contacted by a couple conspiracy theorists who maintained that the missile mishap was a Chinese plot. They sent me pages and pages of the most specious, loosely logical “proof.” To call this ad hominem writing would be polite. But at least they had thought of people; the environmentalist saw no people, only dirty coal and–believe it or not–a government that should have prepared for such a disaster, as if such weather could be predicted. I wonder what his slap in the face was for New Orleans. . .maybe, like the Dalai Lama, it was all their fault (bad karma). Talk about a feeling cleric!

I only hold my own country up to criticism because it seems to think it’s the absolute best at everything but, though the US has a lead on inhumanity, the entire world seems to be suffering the same disease: nationalism, exclusionism. Yet we’re all made of the same stuff, we’re all connected somehow–quantum physics sees this, so this is not ideological twaddle. So, doesn’t our inhumanity to others diminish our own? By this standard, there is no humanitarian religion in the world. I remember my friend’s Catholic church trying to raise funds to make the church and its services accessible to the disabled–with no help from the diocese or Rome. The Church, of course, has no money for such worldly endeavors as, I was told, it’s interested in the spiritual world. (I’m not Catholic.) I was barely surviving on disability benefits but pledged 10 months’ of my allotment. None of the richer parishioners donated a penny–and this is known as a rich parish. Humanity is big here, right? No exclusion here, right? All religions kill people in the name of a humanitarian god and help only their own, excluding the rest of the world. . .and nobody thinks anything of it. Business as usual. What a sad commentary on the state of the world. Buddhism with its perverted idea of karma (doubly perverted as the original concept was a verb and therefore could be changed as you lived) is just as anti-humanitarian. The greatest of the anti-lifers, though, are the Rapturists and Armageddonists who don’t believe in change, simply hating life, which means every human. I thought that life included more than humanity. God’s plan, I suppose. So, of course, the environmentalist could only see that coal is so dirty it shouldn’t be used to save people’s lives. When we do change the majority of all power over to something more sustainable (how I hate that word! It’s a catch-word), it will do well not to totally eradicate the old, as illustrated by the use of out-dated diesel trains in this Chinese emergency.

Nothing is ever a total this way or no way situation, as exemplified by modern China. China’s materialistic society with its perverted Marxist values brought in with the Communist Revolution is asking, via its 20-yr olds, questions of the meaning of life. Could it be because material betterment and the making of more money just don’t cut the mustard? Could it be there’s more than one road to life to travel? The world is not just an economic world, in any sense of the word. If these economists are not bottom line monetarists (how much is a life worth?), they are the kind who judge from final results: efficiency. They do not pay attention to how these results were gotten to, how many “irrational” mistakes are being made or what havoc this final result has created in the world in the name of efficiency. Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn made a very funny satirical movie over efficiency experts. So inhuman. They would be the ones, these economists, to use nuclear weapons because nuclear weapons are economical, on all levels. These people believe that humanity is the pinnacle of evolution, the end evolution has been directing itself toward from the beginning, as they see life as economical (efficient), judging soley from final results. And we can’t get any better. All of human history and development being based on the economics of efficiency is a curious 19th century belief reinvented but still completely disregarding biological science, the biochemistry of life where it all happens. But they are in good company, for Richard Dawkins believes pretty much the same, if The Blind Watchmaker is to be believed. Actually, we’re only a step along the way of life building (there’s more to life than humanity) and it’s all chance and necessity. We don’t even understand the workings of a bacterium, how can we presume to understand the workings of Life? Arrogance. Hubris. How is it we humans are better than other life forms? Anyone who puts himself up as being better, of more worth than others, is no better than an Agamemnon who would sacrifice his sweet, virginal daughter in order to wage war. Agamemnon was the last of a line of a house with a curse on it. What is our curse? Who is our Clytemnestra? Even more to the moment, who is our Orestes?

Out here in the country, though the concerns are the same, they are phrased differently: survival and finding reasons for it being so difficult, why the world is so indifferent to them. Religion? Mythology? The search for meaning is what the brain, the mind does.

The Chinese are terribly sentimental, so this blizzard is still being played out on TV as if it were a soap opera. Even movies made for TV are highly melodramatic. Many, many multi-part series are filled with lots of altered history and enough bathos to kill Anpanman, Super Mario and Godzilla.

I was burned today, scalded. Boiling water was poured onto my foot. At Grandma’s 80th year celebration dinner. This, I was told, was a good omen for her: she will live a long life. For me, it hurts like hell and I can’t wear sock or shoe. Perhaps my foot’s cold, I don’t know.

I also had my nice clean hair smeared with birthday cake frosting. Another tradition, though I thought it was only for the birthday person–it’s happened to me before.

So, now I have sticky hair and a burn-blistered foot. I suppose I should feel grateful that it’s not my heel, tears not withstanding. I withstood the pain for two hours and then gave in and went into Xiaguan for some medicine and thence to bed.

10 Feb.

Very still and a tad colder. Not a good night due to breathing–or, rather, the inability to–and worrying over the splitting of the blister. I’m getting tired of not being able to breathe.

Amy and I spoke, quickly, last night about leaving today. She’s bored and upset with her father: disappointed in him is the way she put it. And, to be honest, he was less than personal, though he did alot of work around the house. But whenever the work was finished, he was off somewhere for hours. Ah-Feng called about a bus home and it was decided. Hurriedly, we packed our things–I of course forgot things–and drove out to Amy’s father’s younger brother’s place very high up in the mountains: only three houses up there. It was beautiful but neither Amy nor I were in such a good mood; I was not able to go out with the others because of my foot, not wanting to increase the possibility of splitting the blister and opening myself up to infection. Ah-Feng said that was reasonable; I told him not to tell his mother, she’d disagree.

A bus from Xiaguan to Baiguan in Shangyu and thence, by a second bus, to Shaoxing. I was home before 3 PM to a cold house and a cat overly pleased to see me. The circuit breaker had been flipped, so there was no electricity–the Chinese are so terribly safety conscious they will do things to the max (all the plugs had been pulled and things turned off too). When I turned it back on, the refrigerator would not start again.

Most all of the city’s businesses are shut down until after the sixth day of the New Year, 13 Feb. Right now, it’s the evening of the 11th and there’s no one to come fix the fridge. Of course, it’s so cold in the kitchen it’s not a major problem; but I can’t freeze anything, so my shopping at the local farmer’s market has been curtailed. I won’t buy vegetables and meat at the supermarket: not as fresh.

JAMES L. SECOR is a writer dramatist and professor of literature at Shaoxing University, Shaoxing China. He can be reached at znzfqlxskj@gmail.com.